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Conflict should be seen as an opportunity to address unmet needs

Chapter 5 Disagreements can escalate into confrontations


In a culture that fosters disagreement, it is inevitable that they sometimes escalate into confrontations. Conflict should not be taboo and should be seen as an opportunity to work through the underlying disagreement. To make use of this opportunity, bring the two conflicting sides together to discuss the issues.

In these situations, people can react very differently. Kenneth Thomas Share this expert KT Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann Share this expert RK Ralph Kilmann developed a useful framework for thinking about how people deal with conflict.

Five Conflict Modes by Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann

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Some avoid conflict while others are accommodating, sacrificing their own position to diffuse the conflict. Both of these approaches lack the assertiveness to back one’s own position and reach a satisfactory resolution of the conflict. With sufficient assertiveness, it is possible to achieve better results. But avoid being too competitive. The key to achieving the best results is combining assertiveness and cooperation to achieve true collaboration.

At the center of every conflict is an unmet need. Unmet needs should be expressed in order to progress. Vulnerability and curiosity are key to using rather than just diffusing conflict because they allow individuals to identify and share their own needs and also to understand the needs of others. Clair Cranfield Share this expert CC Clair Cranfield outlines an approach to resolving conflicts which he calls the VOCAB framework :

  • Vulnerability: The willingness to share the unmet needs that are hiding underneath the armor.
  • Ownership: Taking responsibility for one’s own contribution to the conflict, by acknowledging one’s own needs and choices.
  • Communication: Communicate in a way that allows you to understand what is beneath the surface of other’s behavior — especially asking questions and listening. Then express what you want.
  • Acceptance: Accept what can’t be controlled (like the emotions of the others) and focus on the things that can be changed.
  • Boundaries: Guidelines and rules for acceptable behavior during the disagreement.
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